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Power of language


Dr Manzur Ejaz


Power of language

Dr Manzur Ejaz

Several studies have shown that children who have a good grounding in their mother tongue have an edge in learning new languages. They can be good writers in other languages because they have already experienced how different states of mind are captured through words Nowadays, the United States is giving high priority to different languages. Special emphasis is being placed on learning languages of Muslim countries, including Urdu, Persian, Pashto, Dari and Punjabi written in the Shahmukhi (Persian) script. A special section of the US State Department teaches all these languages and holds examinations for all those officers of the Foreign Service, army or intelligence services who are appointed to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Educational institutions are also giving special consideration to the learning of foreign languages at the entry level.

Last week, a college-bound student approached me for help in writing an essay on the relationship between language and society. The young lady's mother tongue is Urdu but she has been brought up in the US and has been taught in English. She was confused whether she should approach the subject through her mother tongue, Urdu, or her language of schooling, English. Most of us in or from Pakistan would share her confusion because our mother tongues are different from our medium of education. Probably, Punjabis in Pakistan would be the most conflicted on this subject. Therefore, the young lady's query was of special interest to me.

My own view — which I shared with the young lady — is that language is the main link through which human beings relate to each other. Language relates individuals of a particular society at various levels. Therefore, every language has thousands of layers of expression. The words of a language are not merely fixed symbols for definitive expressions. Words may change their meanings and connotations in varying situations. Furthermore, there are many expressions buried between the words. In the words of Pablo Neruda, "Something goes dying between the lips and the voice."

However, one can only experience and explore the society through language in one's own mother tongue, be it oral or written. The emotive, deeper and unsaid expressions are only conceived through one's mother tongue. The other languages, used as tools of learning, can never facilitate the subjective layers of human relations. One employs experience of the mother tongue to make use of other languages. Therefore, if one has a good grounding in one's mother tongue, learning and mastering other languages is easier.

Several studies have shown that children who have a good grounding in their mother tongue have an edge in learning new languages. They can be good writers in other languages because they have already experienced how different states of mind are captured through words. They can appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of words and their usage. Conversely, children who are alienated from their mother tongue in their childhood remain weak in other languages as well.

The case of South Indians comes to mind where the mother tongues have a strong hold. No wonder that South Indians are known for a better command of English in India. On the other hand, the entire northern subcontinent has a linguistic confusion. Be they Urdu-Hindi speakers or Punjabis, they develop an inferiority complex about their mother tongues. Therefore, Punjabis, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus try to become civilised by substituting their mother tongues with Urdu, Hindi or English. Consequently, their linguistic comprehension and articulation remain deficient.

The older generations of North Indians, who could not avoid having good grounding in their mother tongues, were better writers in Urdu, Hindi and English. With erosion and downgrading of mother tongues, the new generation of North Indians has no successors to the likes of greats like Manto and Faiz.
Living in the US for the last 30 years, I have observed that immigrant children who speak their mother tongue at home become better English writers. I have seen such children becoming editors of their school or college magazines, editing and correcting native English speakers. Probably their capacity to understand the intricacies of language is enhanced through their solid base in their mother tongues.

Pakistani elites and the government should learn from the research in this field and induct mother tongues as a medium of education at the elementary level. They should set aside the ideological misconceptions and long held biases, and adopt pragmatic measures to produce better and enlightened individuals. The NWFP has taken a good step by making Pashto as a compulsory subject up to high school. This is a good start, which should be emulated in Punjab and other provinces as well.

Curtsey:Daily Times: September 16, 2009

The third Punjab

Dr Manzur Ejaz


Despite their differences of social status and political ideology, the 'third Punjab' citizens are unanimous in their opposition to the US invasion of Iraq and resent US efforts to coerce Canada. Their Canadian nationalism becomes apparent when they talk about Uncle Sam On almost every road, one can see numerous bicycle riders who sport foot-long beards and turbans, dressed in kurta-pajamas. Many men and women, in the same cast and mould, can also be seen at bus stops. Most shops in the markets display their names in the Gurmukhi script of Punjabi — more than we find in Amritsar. This could be a scene from any East Punjabi city. It is Vancouver, the largest city in the British Columbia province of Canada.

Dr Karnail Singh Thind, a visiting scholar from Mohali (Chandigarh), calls it as the 'third Punjab.' Elaborating on the definition he says, that the 'first Punjab' is in Pakistan where the largest number of Punjabis live, 'the second' is in India with the second largest Punjabi population and the third is scattered all around the world with its capital in Vancouver.

The claim is justified in that this is the only place, away from the subcontinent, that had a Punjabi premier (chief minister), Ujhal Dosanjh, and where Punjabi is taught in schools. In this respect it is better than the first Punjab.

All kinds of skills, industrial and intellectual, have migrated to the 'third Punjab': One can open a university or any other institution, staffed solely by those from the 'third Punjab'. A few years back, when I was introduced to the late Dr Prem Parkash Singh, a Punjabi philologist, I wondered if there were experts like him working in (geographical) Punjab itself. After he passed away, the intellectuals and activist community led by Bhopinder Singh Malhi, published his works and invited people from all over the world (including myself) to honour him.

The older generation of the 'third Punjab' seems much closer to the Pakistani Punjab. While honouring Dr Prem Parkash, most commentators recited Allama Mohammad Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib instead of Waris Shah or Bulleh Shah. Some of the verses were so tedious that, even, regular Urdu readers would need a dictionary to comprehend them. It was obvious that the older generation of Sikhs was more conversant in Persian and Urdu than in written Punjabi. Can one speculate that Punjabi's fate in a United Punjab may be no different from its status in Pakistan?

However, the future of Punjabi people in Canadian politics and business seems very bright. Six Punjabis have been elected to the Canadian parliament, three of them from the Vancouver area. They are also doing very well in business: Vancouver is home to the 'King of Carrots' — a Punjabi immigrant who owns the largest carrot processing plant in Canada.

There is no doubt that the 'third Punjab' is vibrant and full of people who can achieve daunting tasks. Gurmant Grewal, for example, broke the record when he became a member of the Canadian parliament within six years of his immigration. In the last election his wife Nina and he made history by becoming the first couple to simultaneously win seats in the parliament. Mr Dosanjh also won the election to parliament and, at present, is the education minister of Canada. There are countless Punjabi-origin city mayors and councillors all over Canada.

Unlike the politicians of Chandigarh (capital of East Punjab) and Lahore, Mr Grewal, a seasoned politician of the Conservative Party of Canada, is modest. Despite their busy schedules, the Grewals don't have any domestic help. And despite all the other tasks at hand, Mr Grewal helped raise $1.5 million for the earthquake victims: most of the funds came from Vancouver's Sikh community. When I was visiting Mr Grewal at his residence in Surry — a Vancouver suburb with the highest Punjabi population concentration — a group of non-Muslim Punjabi youth were consulting him about the disbursement of $10,000 that they had collected for earthquake victims.

Mr Grewal helps India and Pakistan in their dealings with Canada. He has been the president of a pro-Indo-Pak parliamentary group. Having conceded the presidency of the pro-Pakistan parliamentary group to Wajid Khan, the only Pakistani-Punjabi MP from Toronto, he is still the president of the Indian caucus. He claims that he has convinced the Canadian government to not use its vote against India and Pakistan at the United Nations, indiscriminately: Canada had secretly decided to oppose India and Pakistan on every point after their nuclear tests.

Mr Grewal also takes credit for highlighting the plight of Palestinians across the 'shouting fence'. When Palestinian areas were divided, fences cut across some villages and towns. For half a century, people have been shouting across the fence to communicate with family members on the other side. With the intervention of the international community, on the pleading of people like Mr Grewal, the 'shouting fences' were brought down, making possible visiting arrangements between family members.

Mr Avtar Singh Sahota has successfully brought down the barriers of the capital market. It is amazing, how a young man from a remote village of East Punjab has managed to install the largest automatic carrot processing plant in Canada. From digging up the carrots to the packing, every step is automated.
The King of Carrots is also an example of modesty. Despite his financial standing, he has no domestic help. His daughter served tea when we visited his residence. He fondly remembers people from back home. Like other first generation immigrants, he is still more involved emotionally with his hometown than with Canada where he has made his fortune.

While Mr Grewal and Mr Avtar Singh have made it to upper echelons of Canadian society, Mr Sucha Deepak Singh has championed labour causes. He is a leader of International Timber Union of America and supporter of the Communist Party of Canada (ML). Incidentally, the Communist Party of Canada (ML) was also founded and led by late Hardial Bhains, an immigrant from Hoshiarpur, East Punjab. After his death, his wife, Sandra Smith, became the party leader.

Despite their differences of social status and political ideology, the 'third Punjab' citizens are unanimous in their opposition to the US invasion of Iraq and resent US efforts to coerce Canada. Their Canadian nationalism becomes apparent when they talk about Uncle Sam; Canada like Punjab has a place in their heart.
'Third Punjab' has shown that given the opportunity people can achieve anything.

Random musings: The exodus from the East Punjab to 'third Punjab' has created a vacuum that is filled with labour from Bihar, known as bhayyas. While the prosperous East Punjabis are sending their children to English and Hindi medium schools, the kids of Punjabi bhayyas — as they are known — are going to government schools where the medium of instruction is Punjabi (Gurmukhi script). Some Punjabi bhayyas have started wearing turbans and grown beards like Sikhs. If the trend continues, Punjabi bhayyas will share the political power in a province which was created for Sikh supremacy.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC
Curtsey:Daily Times November 23, 2005

Mastering the mother tongue

Dr Manzur Ejaz


Credible research has proven that children who know their mother tongue well have a much better chance to master other languages. But in the Pakistani educational system, the poisonous injection of alien language to tender minds results in a deep inferiority complex

The jury is still out on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s trip to Washington, sabotaged by design of his deficiency in English. The Governor Punjab has some clue to its root cause and has declared that Punjabi will made compulsory at the elementary level to save future prime ministers from such embarrassment. The logic behind this argument is a bit involved but Punjabi lovers are so neglected that even a consolatory statement or an empty promise can keep them enthralled for a while..

On his oath-taking ceremony, Governor Salmaan Taseer had pleased many Punjabi lovers when, after being distracted by certain wasps in the crowd, Punjabi words started flowing out of his mouth spontaneously. We hope that he does not revert to Punjabi only when bitten by wasps and he has thought hard about why he wants to introduce Punjabi as a compulsory subject at elementary school level and intends to adopt measures to preserve indigenous culture.

In this regard, Najam Hussain Syed has narrated a historical episode how wasp biting can result in spontaneous utterance in one’s mother tongue.

According to this story, during the Mughal period, there was one Maulvi Ghaneemat who was so immersed in Persian that he would make it sure that not a single Punjabi word slipped out of his mouth. People around him used every trick but Maulvi sahib stood his ground.

One day, in poetic trance, when he was reciting his Persian poetry, a wasp made her way into his dhoti (loincloth). Maulvi Sahib, thrashing his dhoti, spurted out “oh teri maaN noon”! The elders, shy of folk cursing, claim that Maulvi Sahib had said “oh baybay”! (oh mother!). But whatever Maulvi Sahib said was not in Persian. Hurriedly, all his students ran to the village and informed the folks that “Maulvi Sahib has spoken”.

I hope that Mr Taseer has spoken without a wasp’s help. However, the way Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani confused “handful of terrorists” with “hand-picked terrorists” he really needs help from a wasp.

It is another matter that I felt really bad to see Pakistani mediapersons judging a national leader from his expertise in an alien language. If we need English-proficient national leaders we should make it a necessary qualification for their selection. Then even a simple BA degree will not suffice; only foreign educated elite would be eligible for the top national positions.

The joke around the White House was that President Bush was very pleased to hear someone speaking worse English then himself. However, being a very shrewd politician, Bush knew if journalists were let loose on Mr Gilani it may lead to a political disaster. Therefore, he grabbed Mr Gilani’s hand and took him to a safer corner of the White House. But the next day, no one could save Mr Gilani from the think-tankers. Mr Gilani, according to observers, hardly understood what was being said.

Why did he have to speak in English and why he did he not ask for a translator? None of the foreign heads from Europe, Japan, China or Korea speak English on such occasions, even when they are fluent in English. Arabs don not need to speak English because the petro-dollars do the talking. But even leaders of small and poor countries from South America speak Spanish and the translators do the rest. Feeling the compulsion to speak in English in foreign capitals is a curse specific to India and Pakistan.

We develop this compulsion from our early schooling when we are alienated from our mother tongue. Credible research has proven that children who know their mother tongue well have a much better chance to master other languages. But in the Pakistani educational system, the injection of alien language to tender minds results in a deep inferiority complex.

Our serving PM is a Saraiki-Punjabi. If he delivers his speeches in his own mother tongue, he would do much better. As a last resort, he could have spoken in Urdu which he knows much better than English.

We think Governor Taseer represents a new breed of politico-economic elite. Probably, he knows that wasp bites are very painful. I wish Mr Gilani and the Sharif brothers also become aware of these realities.

Curtsey:Daily Times:
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Myths about Pakistani Punjab

Dr Manzur Ejaz


In the 60s, there was more liberal space for women in Pakistani Punjab than now; instead of progression Pakistani Punjab has regressed under the heavy pressure of religious fanaticism My dear friend, Sucha Deepak Singh, a Punjabi-Canadian, visited Pakistan, spent most of his time in Lahore and Sahiwal, but he also took a tour of my village. He found most things, contrary to his own anticipation and friends' advice, to be untrue. He still has some confusion created by his personal limited data.

The first thing he noticed was the absence of violence in Punjab that everyone talks about if he/she is not a Pakistani Punjabi. The first thing that comes out from the mouth of non-Pakistanis is that you must be crazy to visit such a violence-ridden country. They seriously believe that they were seeing you the last time in the US and they will soon hear the news about your untimely death. You tell them that violence unleashed by the Taliban-jihadis is limited to areas around the Pak-Afghan border; in the rest of the country it is random and rare. Each day more people die in road accidents, both in Pakistan and the US, than those who are killed by religious extremists. Since the US is obsessed by the Afghan war, the western media stretch the Pak-Afghan border to the entire Pakistan.

Based on his observation, he was of the opinion that many negative aspects of Pakistan are overblown by the media. For example, he said that the problem of electricity load shedding is overstated because he stayed in Bahria Colony, Lahore, where power is guaranteed 24/7 and it was not as bad as reported by the media during his stay in early July in Sahiwal. He thought Pakistani Punjab was a bit more prosperous than its Indian counterpart. I had the same feeling during my half a dozen trips to East Punjab; West Punjab is much more industrialised and commercialised than its counterpart.

Another myth in his mind was that most Punjabis speak Urdu. When he was there he observed that everyone spoke Punjabi, not only with him but with each other. I had similar experiences: a young man surprised me by choosing to talk in Punjabi though he has been educated in top English medium schools of Lahore and has not been exposed to Punjabi. As matter of fact, Mr Singh thought that Pakistani activists promoting Punjabi are more serious than in the Indian part of Punjab. Maybe both of us have a limited experience because I have seen and been told by many that the new generation of Punjab is Urdu-speaking. But my guess is that the parents, even if they are pure villagers, try to speak Urdu to their children from early childhood but when the young ones go out in the street, somehow, they learn Punjabi.

He was extremely surprised to see that Muslim Punjabis are also divided into castes. He thought — since we claim to be an ummah — there should be no caste division like there is in Hindus or Sikhs. One can see how such a misconception has been created. For this generation of Indian Punjabis who were unable to interact with their counterparts across the border, Muslim is a generic universal term. Such an impression is created by Pakistanis as well by presenting themselves as a universal community. The reality is that Pakistani Punjabis are so much divided into castes that intra-caste marriages are rare. This tells us that most of Pakistani Punjabi Muslims are converts from Hindu lower castes. They have continued the old practices but hypocritically give a misleading misconception to outsiders.

However, he was convinced that most Muslim Punjabis have more than one wife because one of his friends has two or three wives. I told him that in central Punjab most married people have to contend with one wife because besides the cultural pressure, most cannot afford more than one wife. I do not know a single living person in my village or elsewhere in Punjab who has multiple wives. He still does not believe it yet. Probably, the Muslims of India have been demanding of the government that they should have the legal provision to marry up to four wives. Whether Muslims can afford to indulge in multiple wives is a different thing but having multiple wives is very rare in central Punjab. In general, he is right that women in Pakistan are not treated the way they are in East Punjab. I had the same view when I visited East Punjab the first time when I saw the number of women using bicycles and scooters for daily work and chores. In the 60s, there was more liberal space for women in Pakistani Punjab than now; instead of progression Pakistani Punjab has regressed under the heavy pressure of religious fanaticism.

Pakistani Punjab has not done as bad as the media stories portray. Much has to be done but let me end with an episode. I ran into an aged philosophy professor of Punjab University Chandigarh (it is a campus of PU Lahore) who first told me that he is 'jaangli' (Jatka) from Kamalia, a town on river Ravi in Faisalabad District. He said when he visited Pakistani Punjab he was not keen to see anything else but how the Muslim Punjabis conduct business. Before the partition of 1947 there was no business class of Muslims — in every town, businesses were conducted by Hindus. After walking through Anarkali — there was hardly one Muslim shop in this always busy bazaar before partition — he said, "Oye Muslio, tusin te Laalayaan noon vi piche chad gaey" (O Muslim [shopkeepers], you have even surpassed the seasoned Hindu business class).

Curtsey:Daily Times: August 10, 2011


People’s history of the Punjab:

Caste oppression,conversions and Sufism

Dr Manzur Ejaz


The enigma of the ruled converting en masse to the religion of the rulers is best depicted by the following joke: in the last days of British rule, after a demonstration in Lahore, a desi garbage handling lady, Laveezan, asked her friend Mary what the demonstration was all about. Mary replied, “They are demanding freedom from us.”

Like Laveezan and Mary, Punjabi Muslims identify themselves with the Islamic rulers of India : being followers of the same religion as the ruling community, they consider themselves a part of it. However, the economic status of lower-caste converts to Islam remained the same throughout the nine centuries of Muslim rule in India . The same holds true for the British period: converts to hristianity didn’t find themselves any better for it.

Conversions to Islam in India have been the subject of furious debate. Hindu fundamentalists assert that the conversions were obtained by force, while many Muslims argue that they were voluntary; that lower-caste Hindus were attracted to Islam by the Sufis of Punjab. The truth probably lies somewhere in between these two extreme views.The controversy however makes the examination of the dynamics which made Muslims a majority in Punjab no less important.

The origins of Muslim Punjab can be traced back to the tenth century. From medieval times to 1947, the bulk of Punjabi Muslims comprised peasants,artisans, workers, and feudal lords. There was no sizable middle class engaged in trade or white collar professions. The status of Muslim converts was not much better than the status of other lower castes in Punjab .Therefore, it is important to see what the caste and class of the converted was before they embraced Islam.

Like the rest of India , the caste system was very stringent in the Punjab . The segregation of the four castes i.e. Brahman, Kashatriya, Vaisyaand Sudra was a big factor in the lives of the common folk. Below the Sudars were two categories of people belonging to some crafts and ‘menial’ professions. The first category was called Antyaja and included shoemakers, jugglers, basket and shield makers, sailors, fishermen, hunters of wild animals and birds, and weavers. These eight professions were recognized as guilds.

Below the Sudars were the Handis, that included sub-groups like Doma, Chandala and Badhatau, who were not included in any caste or guild. They performed menial tasks in villages, and were considered equal to the rank of illegitimate children. It was assumed that they were cursed, because the union of a Sudra father and Brahmin mother was the biggest crime in a society organised around the caste system.

From the demographic composition of Punjabi Muslims, it is easy to infer that the majority converted from Sudra, Antyaja and Handi castes. Most of the Muslim artisans and workers ordinarily belonged to the Antyaja and Handi groups who were below the four castes in social order and respectability. It is believed that a majority of the Muslim peasantry probably belonged to the Sudra, or in some cases, the Vaisya classes. In such a milieu, the caste system played a significant role in the conversion of the Hindu underclass to Islam. These oppressed castes gained hope for social mobility and cooperation with each other, in addition to not having to pay Jaziya and other taxes imposed on non-Muslims by the Muslim ruling classes.

To appreciate the caste-based conversion phenomenon, let’s look closely at some of the massive restrictions that the caste system imposed on the lower classes. All people below the Sudra caste were not allowed to live in the vicinity of the city. Sudras were supposed to be content by living on the outskirts: they could not enter the city after day time, during the day Sudras could not deliver goods and services. People from different castes were not even allowed to take agni (fire) together, let alone share meals. In some places, the caste-system was so rigid that something as slight as the shadow of a Sudra mingling with the shadow of a Brahman was cause enough for a Brahman to return home immediately, and bathe. Consequently, in segregated areas, the Sudra and non-caste people would have to walk close to walls! Thus it makes perfect sense for such marginalised groups to have embraced Islam, which, in principle, recognises equality among all human beings.

The powerful Muslim feudal lords were largely immigrants from Northern and Central Asia . In some cases, they assimilated in the converted Kashatriya Rajput clans and some ruling Jatt families, the communities that constituted Punjab ’s ruling elite prior to Muslim rule. The presence of so many feudal Syed families, from Jhang to Multan (Gilanis, Qureshis, Makhdums etc.) shows the continuation of the foreign elites’ domination. As a matter of fact, the situation in non-colonised jatka Punjab was worse because the indigenous people or aborigines such as Khoja and Mussali among others, were enslaved either by the foreign elite or the newly formed upper castes. The natives lived like serfs, or bound labour till quite recently, perhaps some still live in abysmal conditions even today. Thesewretched of the earth did not even receive marginal benefits that the urban lower and non-caste groups and peasantry from the non-feudal belt would have received by converting.

The duration of Muslim rule in Punjab also boosted the number of converts: Punjab and Sindh came under Muslim rule long before the rest of India . The length of their rule correlates with the extent of conversion to Islam. People are inclined towards the rulers’ religion and culture, even if they were indifferent to religious considerations. For example, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh took the reins of the Punjab there were only 70,000 Sikhs in the entire province of Punjab . But when he died, after ruling for forty years, the Sikh population had multiplied manifold. But Ranjit Singh had always been indifferent to religion. Had Sikh rule lasted another two hundred years, who knows what the religious preferences of the Punjab might have been?

Not all, but some progressive Sufi orders provided an alternative ideology for lay men and women. Like earlier progressive ideological movements (such as Buddhism), Sufism had a profound effect on the Punjab . Two major Sufi schools, Chishtia and Suharwardia prospered in the Punjab more than anywhere elsethe Suharwardias had only one main centre in Multan , but the Chishtias had a ignificant presence throughout North India . While the Chishtia were anti-establishment, the Suharwardia were closely associated with the Delhi court: Sultan Altumash appointed Bahauddin Zakaria Multani – the founder of the Suharwardia order in Multan – as Sheikh-al-Islam (or leader of the faith).

There were fundamental differences between the two orders. The Suharwardia were more separatist, shunning non-Muslims and indigenous culture, whereas the Chishtia were open to people of all religions and embraced and enhanced the people’s culture. Suharwardis lived like royalty while Chishtis believed in not even ‘hoarding’ food for the next day. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi is reported to have remarked that the day when there was salt in boiled dailas (a wild berry of Punjab ) at Baba Farid’s dargah, it would seem like an Eid feast.

More importantly, the leadership of the Suharwardia was hereditary, while Chishti heads nominated their heir on merit: for the Suharwardia order, the leadership remained in Bahauddin Zakaria Multani’s own family. No Chishtia leader was related to another. Khawaja Nasiruddin Mahmood Chiragh Delhi, the fifth head of the Chishtis, did not nominate anyone, since in his view no one was competent “to bear the burden of the people.” The main Chishtia school closed at that point, though regional Khalifas continued the movement, or simply their businesses, in many cases. Later on, the Chishtia tradition was carried on by another order, the Qadiria, which produced great poets like Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah. In short, there were conservative pro-establishment Sufis like Suharwardis, who were successful in effecting conversions to Islam in the elite Hindu classes, while the progressive Sufis of the Chishtia and Qadiria orders had an impact on the masses. In post-Partition Pakistan , the qureshi descendants of the Suharwardia Bahauddin Zakaria have been prominent rulers eg Makhdum Sajjad Hussain Qureshi, Sadiq Hussain Qureshi and now Makhdum Shah Mahmud Qureshi.

The Chishtis incorporated the Indian cultural dimension into Islam, making it more compatible with the indigenous population. They also stood in opposition to formal religion, priestly establishments and the ruling classes. In the process of this ideological struggle, the Chishtis adopted and enhanced indigenous languages and culture. The embracing of mass languages and dialects by the Chishtis in contrast to formal Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic reflected a deep commitment to the downtrodden. Most Chishti leaders, like Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shakar, were renowned scholars in Persian and Arabic, and they could have lived in comfort, but chose the people’s way of life. It can be inferred that Sufis like the Chishtis endeared themselves to the Punjabi masses and contributed towards the conversion of lower castes to Islam, or at least provided the converted Muslims with an alternative ideology that could sustain them spiritually and culturally.

In conclusion, most of the converted Punjabi Muslims belonged to lower and non-caste groups of a stratified Hindu society. The long duration of Muslim rule, the tradition of embracing new ideologies; and Sufi teachings were the main factors behind large scale conversions to Islam in the Punjab . Dr Manzur Ejaz taught at the Punjab University, Lahore, for many years and now lives in Virginia Sufi chants and revolutions —
Dr Manzur Ejaz

If one reads Punjabi classical poetry, with no presumption of Sufism, it is just good poetry of a certain period that has withstood the test of time. I do not know anybody who would claim that just reading and singing of this poetry would bring social change One of our reputable progressive historians asserted in one of his recently published column that chanting Sufi songs cannot change the situation: one needs a modern theory or model to address contemporary problems. I agree with the main assertion but strongly disagree with the intent he has put forth in his argument. His formulation lacks historical perspective of which he is supposed to be an expert.

I do not know who he is referring to when he claims that a change in the contemporary situation cannot be brought about by merely chanting Sufi songs. What is wrong if certain groups study Punjabi or other classical poetry, make musical compositions and sing? Did they make a public bid for revolution that we are requiring of them? Do they come in the way of those who want to bring socio-economic change applying 'modern' theories or models? Obviously they do not. However, in the absence of activist groups or individuals, they become the victims of expectations that they never intended to trigger.

Before coming to any any conclusions we must examine the interface of activist groups/parties and what we categorise as, rightly or otherwise, the Sufi doctrine itself. It is not incidental that the majority of left-wing activists in different Pakistani regions have been sympathetic to indigenous literature, which happens to be written by those whom we call Sufis; probably, anyone engaged in the articulation of new ideas was put under that catchall title. From old progressive groups to Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and all others in-between, they have all been admirers of indigenous classical literature. On the contrary, almost all religious formations and conservatives have been either indifferent or opponents of an indigenous intellectual discourse.

Conservative religious schools and many academics have been, mistakenly, categorising Sufis of all kinds with one broad brush. The conservative-minded had their own agenda in doing so, but many enlightened historians or social scientists have not appreciated the dynamic and dialectic of the indigenous intellectual discourse either. The latest such misplaced analysis — taking Sufis as a monolithic group — has been made by the progressive historian I have mentioned above.

The two major pioneering Sufis schools, Chishtia and Surharwardia, have had very different ideologies, with irresolvable mutual contradictions: Chishtias were mostly anti-status quo while Suharwardias were closely linked with the Delhi darbar. Chishtia leaders from Khawaja Moeen-ud-Din Chishti to Nazam-ud-Din Aulia refused to meet with the rulers while Bahauddin Zikria Multani accepted the official tile of Sheikh-ul-Islam. The Chishtias' disliking for Suharwardias was so intense that once Baba Farid's grandson Arif Daria Mauj, who was the gaddi-nashin, took a shower after he had to embrace Suharwardia Rukn-e-Alam. The latter had returned from Delhi after meetings with the rulers and was not requested to stay at Pakpattan as he had wished.

The Suharwardia school was formalistic, with its ideology close to Mullah Shahi of that period. They had a strong aversion to indigenous languages, cultures, and followers of other religions. The Chishtias were open to all people and it is not a coincidence that they, from Baba Farid onward, pioneered writings in indigenous languages. They promoted indigenous music and other forms of arts as well. It is also not a coincidence that almost the entire Punjabi classical literature was created by the leaders and the followers of the Chishtia and Qadaria schools. Therefore, there is no doubt that they inspired humanism and sometimes revolts by the oppressed classes.

The Chishtia also inspired reformist and nationalist movements like the one led by Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus. This is the main reason that Baba Farid's poetry is included in Guru Granth Sahib. Of course the Chishtia had no well-formulated theory of revolution in the modern sense of the word or overtly preached the overthrow of oppressors. But they were not fronts for the rulers as claimed by our honourable historian: most rulers, being conservative Sunnis, used Mullah Shahi for ideological purposes. It is a historical fact that Baba Farid's life was made miserable by a joint front of Qazi, Mullahs and the ruler of the city of Ajodhan (Pakpattan).

Now let us describe the writings referred to as Sufi chants. Baba Farid's poetry is humanistic with, of course, religious undertones. Guru Nanak's writings are diverse, encompassing philosophy, historical commentaries and everything else in-between. Shah Hussain's kafis comprise the best kind of poetry, which is sung quite often. Waris Shah's epic Heer and Bulleh Shah's kafis are staunchly anti-establishment and anti-Mullah Shahi. Mian Muhammad Bakhsh and Maulvi Ghulam Rasool wrote in the form of masnavi or epic stories. Khawaja Farid's kafis are lyrical with a unique description of the natural landscape of the desert.
Some of these poets were not even traditional pirs and were just following their intellectual pursuits. As a matter of fact, if one reads Punjabi classical poetry, with no presumption of Sufism, it is just good poetry of a certain period that has withstood the test of time. I do not know anybody who would claim that just reading and singing of this poetry would bring social change. However, the question is: can we bring change without mental enrichment by the indigenous literature and culture?

If human beings are not programmable robots, then what goes into the matrix of learning that produces individuals who can bring modernistic change? Coming from a generation of progressives who really struggled to change the socio-economic order through organisational work (not mere Sufi chants!), without much grounding in indigenous sources of learning, we have learnt that much more goes into the make up of a revolution than mere good hearts and theories developed somewhere else.

Curtsy:Daily `Times: February 17, 2010

Waris Shah’s battle against mullah shahi

Dr Manzur Ejaz


In his first encounter with Heer, Ranjha teaches the arrogant and pampered daughter of the feudal chief that ‘human love’ is not based on good looks but on being humble and serving the needy

If I were the US ambassador I would have certainly made it to Waris Shah’s 212th anniversary because he is the most adored Punjabi poet and was the most articulate ideologue against ‘mullah shahi’. He used the epic story of Heer Ranjha to critique the entire system of the feudal era in which mullah shahi played a key role. Waris had an ideological edge over his competitors like Damodar Das who, being the pioneer of the poetic version of Heer Ranjha, was much more skilful in dramatic depiction.

If Waris Shah could look at the world today, he would be smiling to see that in many countries women can wed the person of her choice irrespective of caste, creed or economic status. However, he would weep at the sight of contemporary Punjab, where he might be killed for criticising mullah shahi within hours of the critique. He would also be howling to witness honour killings and all other kinds of tortures meted out to women in his beloved Punjab. He would be astonished to see that in most areas of his land the Heer of today does not enjoy the freedom that his Heer of the medieval period was granted.

Though Waris Shah wove his story around a disaffected artistic-minded Ranjha, a flutist, and Heer, a strong-willed daughter of a feudal chieftain, he critiqued the key institutions of society that do not respect individual choice. Waris Shah expanded the horizon of the folktale of Heer Ranjha by explaining the core issue: that a woman cannot marry a person of her choice because of a system plagued by tribalism, caste discrimination, religion, corruption and other prevailing regressive forces. Therefore, Waris Shah makes it clear in the beginning that he is creating a new version of Heer (qissa Heer da nawan banaaiye ji).

Unlike his predecessors who started the tale on idealistic notions, Waris Shah concentrated on the role of property in society. After the death of his father, Ranjha’s brothers are jealous of him because of the deceased’s affection for him, manoeuvre the system of justice and give him barren land. The qazi, who used to have control over the revenue and system of justice along with the village panchs — headmen — were bribed by Ranjha’s brothers.
Wadhi de ke bhoin de banay waris banjar zimin Ranjaithe noon aai hai (They became the owner of the cultivable land through bribery while Ranjha was given the barren land).
Throughout the story, Waris Shah depicts the qazis as the most corrupt persons who always collaborate with the feudal lords against the common people. In fact, Waris was harshly criticising the Mughal era system of justice that was based on a network of qazis, appointed on the basis of religious education.
After criticising the corruption-ridden society of Takht Hazara, Ranjha’s native village, Waris Shah takes him to a mosque, which sheltered travellers. Ranjha plays the flute in the mosque to attract everyone in the village but the mullah. A very few historians mention that the mosque was a contested place between mullah shahi and sufis from Baba Farid to Khawaja Farid. The qazi of Pakpattan had lodged a complaint against Baba Farid alleging that he listens to music and dances in the mosque. Most probably Waris Shah was an affectionate follower of Baba Farid and must have had him in mind through Ranjha debating the mullah. Waris Shah, through describing the long detail of curriculum taught to the mullahs makes it certain that he is debating not only a village mullah but also the entire system of mullah shahi. He concludes that mullahs are evil forces clinging to the house of God.
“Waris Shah, Khuda dian khanian noon eeh mullah bhi chambray hain blain” (Waris Shah, mullahs are evil forces clinging to God’s place). Waris Shah does not spare the greedy business class that worships money. Through Ranjha’s encounter with the boat owner, who declares that “we give a damn about God and we only work for money”, Waris Shah shows how the mullah and the mallah (boatman) say the same thing about common people, though one uses God’s name and the other negates it. For Waris Shah, the mullah was a parasite and the mallah was a vulture, playing a similar role in society.
In his first encounter with Heer, Ranjha teaches the arrogant and pampered daughter of the feudal chief that ‘human love’ is not based on good looks but on being humble and serving the needy. In the opening dialogues between Heer and Ranjha, Waris Shah defines what real human love is and how to achieve it.
Through Ranjha’s servitude to Heer’s father, the chief of the tribe, Waris Shah exposes the contradictions of the feudal system. For example, Heer’s father dismisses Ranjha when her daughter’s love story starts making the rounds but when his herd of buffaloes cannot be managed he tells his wife that they have to overlook the affair till Heer is married. Depiction of the villain, Kaidoo, is also used by Waris Shah to taunt the hypocritical feudal boasting about honour but ignoring it when his self-interest is at stake. While criticising the system, Waris Shah rejects the institution of jog as well, which teaches the abandonment of the world. When the head jogi, Balnath, asks Ranjha to go beg and consider every woman as his mother or sister, Ranjha rebuts: “I have adopted jog for the love of a woman, how can I consider every woman as my sister or mother?” For Waris Shah the individual has to fight the system and giving up is not the solution. In this backdrop, through a debate between Ranjha and Sehti, Heer’s sister-in-law, Waris Shah criticises the theories of social science, clichés and commonly held beliefs.
Waris Shah’s tomb has been upgraded from a neglected grave where the anniversaries were celebrated by busloads of activists from Lahore. Now, the Waris Mela has become very huge but his message has been ignored: there are even fewer people in the rural areas that read Waris Shah’s Heer. Waris Shah has been embraced as a ‘pir’ but not as a thinker. But Amrita Pritam’s wailing is still haunting: “Aj aakhaan Waris Shah noon, kiton qabran wichoon bol” (Today I would beseech Waris Shah to speak from the grave).

Curtsey: : Dailytimes July 28,2010

Waris Shah and society

Dr Manzur Ejaz / Waris Husain


Oceans of ink have been spilled writing about the jurisprudence concerning Sharia and the Holy Quran, but the mystic traditions of Sufism native to South Asia have been relegated to an apolitical and purely spiritual role. However, one should not be mistaken; theWaris and Bulleh Shahs of the Indian subcontinent were fierce revolutionaries, who did not purport, in their life or writings, that hermetic anarchism was their solution to the injustices of their society. Rather, their lives and writings reflected a political motivation of dismantling patriarchal authoritarianism and they offer valuable lessons for law today; the best example is perhaps Waris Shah’s telling of theHeer Ranjha story.

Though this story has been told by mystics and folklorists alike for many generations, Waris Shah’s version turned a Romeo and Juliet narrative into a politicised attack on the ills of his society, most of which still apply today. First, he attacks the class system by having Ranjha, a young man from an elite family transform himself into a ‘lowly sheepherder’ as a ploy to remain near his beloved. Her parents forbid their marriage simply based on the appearance of Ranjha as a commoner or proletariat. Waris Shah highlights the farcical nature of class with this part of the story, decrying society’s appreciation for trappings of wealth and highlighting the issue of egalitarianism and equality, which underlies all progressive law.

Then, Waris Shah turns to the institution of marriage itself, which was and is still used as an arranged business deal between families, having little to do with personal choice between the two parties involved. Waris Shah does not deride the institution of marriage, as the hero of his story has a desire to be married to Heer. At one point, when all seems lost, Heer asks Ranjha to run away from the society which won’t allow them to be together. Ranjha’s response tells us that neither Waris Shah nor his hero are anarchists or hermits. Ranjha responds that running away would mean they are admitting guilt, when they have nothing to feel guilty for. The hero of Waris Shah’s story does not wish to run from society, but to transform it in a revolutionary way.
Out of this discussion of the right to freely marry comes the conflict between the society Waris Shah and other Sufi poets wanted and the society that they lived in. The society of their time limited the freedoms of individuals with authoritarian structures, whether class, feudal or familial based. At the time Waris Shah was challenging his society’s structures with a spiritual vernacular, the French and Americans were challenging their monarchical authority with a political vernacular of revolution and democratic freedom. The aim of both was the same: to bring about a new society that valued the natural rights of the individual, whether it comes to their democratic representation or their basic right to marry whom they love.

However, it is not just the clans that Waris Shah wished to remove from power but also those clerics who use religion for their own ends. Waris Shah believed that a governing structure like a mosque should concern itself with the welfare of its congregants, which could be extrapolated as the duty of a state to ensure the welfare of its citizens, especially those in need.
At the same time as rejecting the religious power structure that is manipulated by some for their own ends, Waris Shah also critiques the hermetic jogi philosophy. On his path to be with his beloved, Ranjha trains to become an aesthetic jogi, and his teacher emphasises the importance of removing himself from a social structure dominated by desire. At the end of his stint, Ranjha vehemently disagrees with the jogi,claiming that it is insufficient to remove oneself from society, but rather, one must attempt to transform that society itself.
This was a message for many Sufi poets from the Indian subcontinent. Though they did not take part in the monarchical politics of their era, they engaged in the revolutionary act of writing poetry that directly confronted the pillars of authoritarian control in that society. In that manner, if one were to modernise and reinterpret their writings concerning the need for religious harmony and openness amongst groups, they would likely advocate for the need to establish a secular governing state.
Of course, as with all poetry, there is great room for debate. But, there is an even greater need to discuss the relevance of the ideas posed by intellectuals like Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah or Waris Shah to the political and social problems that persist today. One cannot relegate these figures as wool-wearing aesthetics, who lived in the woods and did not care about society. On the contrary, these thinkers cared a great deal about the future of their societies and used spiritual language to attack the sociopolitical status quo of the time, whereby kings, clerics and patriarchs could suppress everyone’s rights to freedom. While the figures may have changed over time, authority and oppression persist, which requires us to study the native spiritual intellectuals of the subcontinent in a more political manner than before.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2014.

Caste out

Dr Manzur Ejaz


Mechanisation of agriculture and commercialisation of the other economic sectors have demolished the basis of the caste system, but it is well and alive in social and political life

I am always amused to see whom Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain chooses to stay or hang out with during his Washington visits. Most of his hosts and daily visitors are from the Jatt caste. I was even more amused at the description Amy (Amar Preet Ghumman), a friend’s daughter studying at George Washington University, gave me of Sikh students at her university.

According to her, she belongs to the Jatt group—obviously Ghummans consider themselves Jatts of the first order—while other Sikh students are Pahpas, which can be pronounced as ‘Bhapas’ too. The Jatt groups look down upon the Pahpas as inferiors.

That reminded me of an East Punjabi intellectual who, during the Khalistan movement days, said that the Jatts in the forefront of the Khalistan movement are so chauvinistic that they even consider their Gurus below themselves because most of them are not Jatts. His point was that the Jatts are trying to dominate through the Khalistan movement. Amy may be doing the same thing, though inadvertently.

Amy is a second-generation immigrant, born and raised in the US. She is a student at a prime Washington DC university and she is bright in her studies. Her father was a progressive activist back home and has been trying to inculcate enlightened values in his children. The entire family has a non-conservative modernistic lifestyle. And yet Amy is a proud of being Jatt, who are above the ‘Pahpas.’

I asked her what was wrong with Pahpas and Pahpans (female Pahpa). They are miserly, self centered and not very open-hearted, was her response. She gave me an example of a fellow Pahpan student who once ended up paying three dollars more than the rest of the group; she started sending e-mails to everyone in the group demanding compensation. For Amy this is lowly behaviour, because the said ‘Pappan’ belongs to a rich family — most students at her university do for that matter because the annual expenses are so high that only the well-to-do can afford it. “If it were me, I would pay for everyone and just forget about it,” Amy claims.

The division among Sikh Jatts and Pahpas is an ongoing schism. While most of the Jatts come from an agrarian background, Pahpas are urban, educated and oriented towards arts, science and business. Most of them are traders, artists and engaged in artistic/scholarly work. Amrita Pretam, Kartar Singh Duggal, and for that matter most of the Sikh writers and intellectuals, are typical Pahpas. Most successful Sikh business people are Pahpas too. But they have never been able to impress the Jatts.

The division between Sikhs is an interesting topic for sociologists and ethnographers, but how has this agrarian distinction taken root in Amy and her friends, who were born and raised in an industrial society? It appears that even the second-generation immigrants are looking for some kind of ‘identity’. In the case of Muslim students this identity is derived from religion, while in Amy’s case it comes from a centuries-old caste system.

Like other second-generation ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis), Amy could not give a convincing rationale for sticking to ‘caste identity’. She could not explain why most Sikh intellectuals, writers, artists do not come from the Jatts.

She knew the absurdity of the Jatt-Pahpa division and yet after a few sentences she would tell me, “I knew Mr X was not a Jatt because he is a very skillful ‘dholi’ (drummer).” Or if a fellow Sikh student is going straight from the classroom to the library, one knows he or she is not Jatt. It turned out that if a student has artistic skills or is serious about studies and careful about spending money, that person is a non-Jatt for sure. This left me wondering about how a bright person in this day and age can be stuck with such irrational and archaic notions. But Amy, in her innocent way, is afflicted with them.

For her this may be a question of identity or just fun, but her differentiations made me reflect on how skills and knowledge are degraded in the agrarian economy of the Punjab. Weavers, potters, blacksmiths and other such artisans used to be the most skilful people in society. And yet they were considered the lowliest human beings. Economic reasons were probably behind such a worldview.

Farming involved much simpler techniques, as compared with artisans’ intricate know-how. But since farming produced commodities to sustain life, it was considered to be the most respected profession. The Jatt legacy continues because the agrarian culture is still prevalent in both parts of the Punjab. Parkash Singh Bada, the everlasting Shromni Akali Dal leader and Chief Minister of East Punjab, is a typical recurrence of the Jatt legacy.

Mechanisation of agriculture and commercialisation of the other economic sectors have demolished the basis of the caste system, but it is well and alive in social and political life. As a matter of fact, in the new economic set-up, the non-farming communities are better off than the agrarian ‘castes’. However, the caste system has held back societies like Punjab with a vengeance. Is this a question of sticking to known archaic identities in a new uncertain world? Amy’s example shows that it is indeed so.

Curtsey:Daily Times: April 18,2007

That laughing son of a weaver - Shah Hussain (1538-1599)

Dr Manzur Ejaz


Shah Hussain was the son of a weaver called Nusikhia (apprentice) Sheikh Usman who belonged to the Dhudha clan of Rajputs. Some historians assert that his grandfather or great grandfather had converted to Islam but Dr. Jeet Singh Seetal has affirmed through quoting several sources that it was Shah Husain's father who converted to Islam during King Feroz Shah's era. Sheikh Usman moved to Lahore and entered the weaving profession. It is possible that he was treated as an outcast in his community and had to move to Lahore.
Emperor Jahangir ordered one of his officials to write a diary of whatever Shah Husain did or said every day As we know, most of the conversion to Islam in Punjab had occurred among the lower castes that belonged to the artisan or working classes and not among the merchants, bureaucracy or aristocracy of Hindus. The immigrant ruling classes from Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia or Arab lands treated the low-caste converted Muslims just the way the upper caste Hindus had been doing. They were like "chuhRas" (sweepers) who converted to Christianity during the British Raj but their social status remained the same. The immigrant ruling class used the word 'jolaha' instead of 'chuhRas' for low-caste converts. In one kafi Shah Hussain refers to this class setting, though the verses can be interpreted in other ways as well:
I am [royal] court's chuhRi (sweeper)... The treasurer and the revenue official know this...
According to the Lahore Gazetteer, the bulk of Muslims were artisans and workers in the city even in the 1940s. And, one can imagine that in the 16th century, almost three centuries back, other than the conquering-immigrant ruling class, most of the Muslims in Lahore must have been comprised of the working classes. In this perspective, Shah Hussain, the pioneer of the kafi form of Punjabi poetry, seem to be the first and probably the only major classical Punjabi poet who belonged to the working class. Bhakti movement's most renowned poet Bhaghat Kabir (1440-1518) was also a weaver but he wrote in Hindustani. Other Sufi poets were Syeds, the highest caste of Muslims, or descendents of socially privileged immigrant families or at least belonged to the class of educationists, clergy, etc. Shah Hussain started his education in Abu Bakar's madrassa in Taxali Gate of Lahore. He had started memorizing the Quran when he was initiated onto the spiritual path by Shah Bahlol Dariai of Chiniot. Afterwards, he finished memorizing the Quran in a short period of time and went into rigorous worships including spending nights standing in the River Ravi. By his mid-30s he became Sheikh Saad Ullah's pupil who was considered to be the teacher of elites. According to several sources, at age 36, while taking a lesson on tafseer (interpretation), when he heard "This world is a place to play" Shah Hussain ran out laughing and totally abandoned the path of organized religion. After that he was always seen dancing in a red dress with wine surahi (bottle) and piala (earthen cup) in his hand.

How long I am going to be called Shiekh or pious? We are going to sit home and sing the song of happiness. We are going to eat by begging (the bread). This is the work in which we are going to be committed.

According to the story when his mentor Bahlol Dariai heard about this he traveled to Lahore, chided Shah Hussain and ordered him to lead the prayers. However, in obedience when Shah Hussain was leading prayers, reciting Quran, and reached the verse "Alam Nashraa la ka sadra ka" (And thus we opened your heart), he ran away laughing again.
Qazi and Mullah give advice and wise people point out the right path but love has nothing to do with the path. In Shah Hussain's poetry, history is a determined course and humans can only enjoy authentic living by realizing or utilizing the fact of the limited time they have Shah Hussain fell for a Brahman boy, Madhoo, and that became his lifelong love. Their love was so strong that Shah Hussain's name was changed to Madhoo Lal Hussain forever. Madhoo became the leader after Shah Hussain's death and was buried next to his lover-Guru: Shah Hussain was buried in Shadhra on River Ravi but 13 years after his death-it claimed that Shah Hussain had forecasted it before dying-his grave was arranged in Mughalpura. Whichever way we interpret the relationship between Shah Hussain and Madhoo one thing is clear: they were openly in love and the society accepted it. However, from his verse 'Some people are bent upon fighting us and save my honor o Lord' it appears that it was not a smooth sailing for him as portrayed by some.

Shah Hussain, the Imam of Malamti (self-deprecation) sect, is said to have more than a hundred thousand followers with 20 Khalifa. One historian of Sufism, Sarhandi, writes that if someone came to Shah Hussain to be initiated he would say, "muna ke aa apne aap noon te tothi pee" which meant "shave your head and drink an earthen cup of wine with me." If the person would fulfill these conditions he was taken into the fold, otherwise he was refused. Once a Mullah came for initiation and Shah Hussain refused him by saying, "My magic does not work for people like you, why do you want me dishonored?" Despite a mammoth following and thousands of devotees who used to remain in his attendance, Shah Hussain disliked the title of 'peer' (spiritual guide). That is why he says in a kafi: Shah Hussain is a faqir (God's man with no possessions) and do not call him a peer He cannot withstand this lie. He only seeks the Lord's name. Shah Husain had seen immense changes of fortunes during his life. He was born during the reign of Sher Shah Suri (1540-1545), who had defeated Emperor Humayun and set up a new template for civic and military administration and issued the first Rupee and re-organized the postal system of India. However, Humayun re-conquered the empire in 1555 but died after one year in 1556 as he fell from his horse. His son Akbar was enthroned but he had to fight the king Hemu, son of a Hindu priest, who later became a food seller and himself a vendor but later rose to become Chief of Army and held the Delhi throne for a very short duration. In this kafi Shah Hussain depicts the historical reality of his time:
O my mother, I am losing sanity to such a roaring noise in this world.
Some ride doli [small portable cart for bridse] or horse and some are burnt or put in the graves.
I have seen some turned to bare feet that had millions [of rupees].
Some are money lenders while others are cheaters, hermits and thieves.
Says Hussain, the humble one, animals are better than us.
Shah Hussain and Madhoo were openly in love and the society accepted it Shah Hussain spent his last forty-some years while Akbar ruled India. As a matter of fact Akbar moved his capital to Lahore for the last 15 years (1584-1599) of Shah Hussain's life. According to historical accounts, Prince Saleem, who later ruled under the name of Jahangir, ordered one of his officials to write a diary of whatever Shah Husain did or said every day. This diary was named as Baharia. Some argue that Amir Bahar was attached to Shah Hussain due to reverence while others claim that it was to keep an eye on him because he had a large following and could create problems.
Akbar is said to have ordered Shah Hussain's arrest for his defiant lifestyle but could not get him till he was seen in the crowd that had gathered to watch Dullah Bhatti's public hanging. Traditional accounts say that Shah Hussain showed a miracle and was let go, but other political factors like Shah Hussain's popularity and his being harmless by not taking a direct part in politics may have convinced Akbar to spare him. Shah Hussain says:
Kings are managing their kingdoms, money lenders are making collection while we only desire the name of our Sain (Lord). Akbar's liberalism and secularism is overstated in many ways though it could be termed better than what was unleashed by Aurangzeb. Many historians have shown that Akbar's good governance meant more organized plundering of the peasantry which was worse off during his time. Dullah Bhatti was hanged because he led a peasant revolt against excessive levies imposed by Akbar. The urban classes, including the historians of that period, benefited because of huge agricultural surplus brought to the city and were happy with Akbar. Similarly, Akbar's Deen-e-Ilahi intended nothing but to unite the Muslim and Hindu ruling elites. On the contrary, Shah Hussain's union with Madho was a metaphor for the people's unity. Najam Husain Syed has tried to portray the dynamics of the relationship between Akbar, Sheikh Saad Ulah, Shah Hussain, Dullah Bhatti and other classes of society in his play 'Takhat Lahore.' Whether the relationship between rebel Dullah Bhatti and Shah Hussain was factually true or not, for the people it was real because both were perceived to be fighting against the same system.
Sikhism was trying to find its feet during Shah Husain's time: Guru Arjan Singh had undertaken the compilation and editing of Guru Granth Sahib. It is said that Shah Husain along with other three Sufi-Bhagats, namely Peelu, Chajja and Kahna, went to see Guru Arjan Dev in Amritsar and presented their poetry for inclusion in the Granth but with no success. Baba Farid and Bhagat Kabir's poetry was included in the Granth. Some historians believe that the Gurus included the poetry of only those Sufis who had fulfilled the duties of family; so they ignored Shah Husain and even Mira Bai who could not fulfill this condition. Another school asserts that Shah Hussain had a huge following while Guru Arjan Dev was still struggling and, therefore, it is least likely that Shah Hussain would have traveled to Amritsar. Dr Jeet Singh Seetal has shown that many verses in Guru Granth are identical to Shah Husain's poetry.
One has to appreciate Shah Hussain's poetry in the context of the historical and socio-economic conditions of the time and from the perspective of his own class background. In Shah Hussain's poetry, history is a determined course and humans can only enjoy authentic living by realizing or utilizing the fact of the limited time they have. This and many other kafis highlight the limits of human will to transcend the socio-historic boundaries.

This was a pre-written destiny by the Creator from eternity; can you reverse it, O my mother?
The KhaiRas are taking me away in doli and I have no excuse or power to stop it.
Shah Hussain is referring to Heer's forced marriage with Saida KhaiRa pointing out that it was pre-determined that Heer, daughter of the Chief of Sial tribe, was not going to be married with hired herder Ranjha. Furthermore, Shah Hussain is the first major classical poet who used the Heer-Ranjha metaphor as expression of Supreme being-as in Wahadat-ul-Wujood and Advaita Vedanta - and for the unity of opposites (Ranjha and Khaira), It became common for his successors to use these metaphors very frequently in explicating the finer points of Philosophy. Shah Hussain does not blame Kaido or anyone else but destiny for the tragedy of Heer-Ranjha, which means the determined circumstances of class and caste. However, after talking about destiny, Shah Hussain immediately brings back the human soul which keeps on yearning for freedom in the third line of the kafi:
Ranjha has wrapped me in hooks and secretly pulls the strings.
Shah Husain takes an existentialist stance by refusing to be defined by any single social category.
O ni Hussaino is a weaver
He is a principal that earns no interest, neither is he a devout Muslim nor a pagan
Neither was he engaged nor married, neither were his wedding messages sent or received He is what he was (or has been).
Recognizing the determinants of history and nature and of human yearning, Shah Husain stresses that authentic living can be achieved if life is taken as joyous play. Therefore, in most of his kafis, playing is a central notion; he invites everyone to play and laments for the period that was lost in not playing. Living by societal bindings is an impediment to play.
Whirling around [dances], play in the home yard
This is the worship which brings the Absolute near you

- Oh mother, let me play, who will play my game after me?
The night just passed by us without playing
Probably, Shah Hussain was the most defiant intellectual of Punjab even by contemporary standards. Through his family he had personal experience of the fact that no organized religion emancipates a common human being. Similarly, the social system also perpetuates the oppressive system and thus he negated all religious and social institutions through his mode of life. He was also very aware of the class structure where some are too poor and some too rich as in one verse he says, "Some are craving for half bread loaf while others have too much to go around." However, like Baba Farid and Guru Nanak he did not condemned the Mullahs with harsh words like his successors, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah did. His tone, following his predecessors, was more of delegitimizing the Mullah/Qazi rather than outright condemnation. It is possible that the Mullahs and Qazis up till the 16th century were not as oppressive and corrupt as they became in the later period.
To hell with your white sheet (that mullah wraps around), the blanket of God's men is better
Shah Hussain's language is urban and very close to present-day expressions. Baba Farid's metaphors and expressions reflected a simple semi-desert life that was around him: most of Punjab was semi-arid with thinly spread trees and shrubs. Baba Farid's frequent use of the wild tree of ' wan' as a metaphor changed into 'chanan rukh' in Shah Hussain. Guru Nanak employed the terminology mostly popular with Sadhoos (He wrote in their language Sadhokri) and used terminology mostly used by officialdom with a new meaning. Shah Hussain, being a Lahorite urban, drew upon more complex, intricate and subtle, even softened expressions. More often, Shah Hussain uses WaihRa (home yard), charkha (spinning wheel), its different parts and spinning processes as symbols.
Whirl around the spinning wheel of my Lord, be blessed she, who is spinning you.
My spinning wheel is red, it is charming red.
The charkha is used in a rural self-sufficient society as well as in the urban manufacturing sector and, hence, it is more universal. Furthermore, weaving is the most sophisticated skill in contrast to cultivation, etc. and by using this as a poetic symbol Shah Husain elevated Punjabi poetry to another level.
Shah Hussain did not denounce the world either, rather he had a deep feeling for it, calling it a 'pearl-like dewdrop' that is beautiful but short-lived. See the following verse:

Says Hussain, the devotee of his Lord that the world has been passing as half [of its potential]
Shah Hussain expressed deep humility in his poetry; however, he cleared the concept by saying:
Shah Hussain's humility is like a sharp axe.
Finally, Shah Hussain acknowledges the limitation of the world that is incapable of recognizing the truth:
Sir, the truth is not even heard
How can the truth be heard when half-truths [immature ideas] have been absorbed in the bones?
Only those whose being started burning heard the truth.
Curtsey:Friday Times: Sept 9,2011
The spirit of SANA
Dr Manzur Ejaz
Sincere and honest lovers of a people’s Pakistan should learn something: teach the national languages in other provinces as soon as possible. Sindhi and Punjabi are sister languages and their teaching in both provinces will further the cause of unity

In its annual convention in St Louis, Missouri, on July 2-3, the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) proved that it is the only authentic community organisation of expatriate Pakistanis in the US and Canada. Though smaller in size than other dominant Pakistani ethnic groups living in North America, SANA delivers a genuine community gathering for all ages and genders to those whose roots are/were in the Sindhi homeland, culture and language. Being a rare secular Pakistani organisation, SANA is also unique in catering to Hindu Sindhis who live all across India as well. This way it provides a real platform for person-to-person contacts between two brothers, India and Pakistan, who have chosen to remain at odds for real or imaginary mutual fears.

In one of its main sessions on the current political conditions in Pakistan it was shown, maybe for the first time, that if people of different nationalities are encouraged and enabled to communicate in their own mother tongues, they come closer faster. On the contrary, if unity is sought through an enforced artificially created concept of a nation, based on religion and a national language spoken by a tiny minority, hostility, misunderstandings and mutual hatred develops.



This particular session, like the rest, was coordinated by Mr Aziz Narejo, ex-president of SANA, in the Sindhi language. Mr Jami Chandio, a writer and intellectual from Sindh and Mr Khalid Hashmani, a seasoned activist and community leader, laid down the present socio-political landscape of Sindh. Sitting on the stage besides yours truly was Mr Kamran Shafi, columnist of Dawn, wondering which language would be appropriate for non-Sindhi people like himself and Dr Mohammad Taqi, columnist Daily Times.

But when I, like many previous years, spoke in Punjabi and supported the Sindhis’ right to self-determination, Dr Taqi spoke in Hindko, his mother tongue, and Mr Shafi in Punjabi. This had a profound impact on the audience and everyone loved it and felt that people of different nationalities were talking to each other from the heart. Maybe sincere and honest lovers of a people’s Pakistan should learn something from it: teach the national languages in other provinces as soon as possible. Sindhi and Punjabi are sister languages and their teaching in both provinces will further the cause of unity.

There was a similar affinity between Sindhis and Punjabis as highlighted in the opening session of the convention discussing Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (1689-1752). The session was moderated by Dr Mithal Vakassi and Jami Chandio spoke very profoundly on the subject. Dr Vakassi has been and is a devotee of Shah Abdul Latif since his childhood and is working on a plan to introduce the beauty and the message of Sindhi poetry to the world community. In the question and answer session it was highlighted that Sindh’s most revered poets like Bhittai and Sachal Sarmast were contemporaries of Punjabi icons like Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah and shared their philosophical outlook. The second literary session, moderated by Irshad Kazi, was meant to pay tributes to Dr Nabi Bux Baloch, Tajul Bevas, Hassan Dars, and other Sindhi heroes of Sindhi literature.

Besides a vibrant programme for youth and fund raising activities for flood relief, a lively session on women’s participation was moderated by Mrs Noornisa Ghanghro. Ms Nazia Junejo, Zeb Agha, Almas Abbasi, Samina Kazi, Azzadi Fateh, Sadia Shah, Asma Lakho and others presented their candid views on women’s participation in the socio-political problems of Sindh. This session proved how stereotyping was misplaced about Sindhi women and how they were struggling for equal rights like their enlightened counterparts in the rest of the country. In the medical seminar, Dr Sattar Shaikh of Michigan with presentations on Dr Khalida Qalbani, Dr Fareed Shaikh and Dr Shama Tareen was also very informative.

I was very fortunate to meet Dr Nisar Siddique, Director of Institute of Business Administration (IBA), located in the city of Sukkur in Sindh, Pakistan. I was told that he was such an honest and competent bureaucrat before taking over IBA that people of Tharparkar pray for rain and the return of Dr Siddique as their deputy commissioner. He made a presentation on ‘The State of Education in Sindh — Challenges, Problems and Suggestions’. The presentation was based on a recent study of the state of six districts in Sindh. Ms Azzadi Fateh gave an interesting presentation on ‘Media Literacy’ in the same session.

This year SANA invited three distinguished Sindhi academicians from India, Dr Baldev Matlani, Ashok Motwani, and Dr Prem Mutlani. Dr Baldev Matlani and Dr Prem Matlani presented their scholarly papers on the Sindhi language, religion and the monster of religious extremism. It was enlightening and a pleasure to share ideas with these guests during late night informal gatherings.

On the final day of the convention there was a ‘sumptuous banquet’ with visiting guests and high achievers from the community being presented traditional ajraks. SANA’s first president Mr Khalid Hashmani was declared the recipient of the year for the Lifetime Achievement Award. A wonderful youth show arranged and choreographed by Ms Asha and Nand Kodwani was followed by musical entertainment of famous singer Ms Kajal along with Stephan Dewan.

Of course this every successful convention was made possible by the hard work of its president Valeed Sheikh, other organisers like Dr Shabbir Sheikh, Dr Maqbool Halepota, Aijaz Haque Memon and many others. I have been attending SANA conventions for many years now and my eyes always look for Dr Aijaz Turk, Sunny Panwar, Sarfraz Memon and Dr Mazhar Lakhio who, for me, represent the silent spirit of SANA. Luckily they were all there this time.

Exerpts from SANA

Dr Manzur Ejaz


I visited Thar a few years back and have seen Thardeep’s innovative approaches from finding spring water in the middle of the desert to providing electricity using solar energy techniques. If I had to get involved with development work in my area in Punjab, I would adopt many models developed by Thardeep

USA : The Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) maintained its unique distinction of being the only secular organisation of expatriates by inviting the most prominent Sindhi from India, Mr Ram Jethmalani, member of Rajya Sabha and president of the Indian Supreme Court Bar, to its annual convention, held on July 2-5, 2010 in Houston. At 87, Mr Jethmalani, vibrant and kicking, delivered one of the most enticing speeches I have heard in the last few years. In addition to Mr Jethmalani, development star from Thar, Dr Sono Khangharani, nationalist leader Dr Qadir Magsi, notable analysts Mr Zulfiqar Halepota and Jami Chandio made very enlightening presentations in various seminars.

Mr Jethmalani was prophetic when he said, “Democracy without education is hypocrisy without limitations,” and that politicians have a direct conflict with education because they do not want well-informed constituents who can question them. He may have added some spice to his speech if he had seen the circus of the Punjab Assembly passing a resolution against the media for exposing their fake degrees.

Mr Jethmalani, a successful lawyer and partner of A K Brohi before partition in Karachi, had to restart his life from immigrant camps in India. “I never thought of revenge while going through the miseries of partition and I am still the best friend Pakistan has in India,” he asserted. He was very disappointed with the political lot in India as well as in Pakistan. In a light-hearted mood he commented, “Politicians should be changed like diapers and for the same reason.”

Speaking on religion he said, “I am not a religious person because so much blood has been shed in the name of religion that navies of the entire world can easily swim in it. Mohammad (PBUH) was the greatest prophet of all times because he assigned more strength to the ink of a pen as compared to the sword. Consequently, Muslim cities became centres of scholarship and Muslims pulled Europe out from the Dark Ages. However, when Muslims became book burners and destroyers of civilisations they were enslaved.”

In addition to Mr Jethmalani, another Hindu from Thar, Sindh, Dr Sono Khangharani, shared the development ideas he is implementing to provide housing, water, electricity and education. I visited Thar a few years back and have seen their organisation’s — Thardeep — innovative approaches from finding spring water in the middle of the desert to providing electricity using solar energy techniques. If I had to get involved with development work in my area in Punjab, I would adopt many models developed by Thardeep. Dr Khangharani was very modest in presenting his achievements. I wish he had talked more about the innovations he has made in changing conditions in Thar.

Dr Khangharani avoided making any political comments but that was taken care of by one of his companions, Mr Zulifqar Halepota. By thoroughly analysing the 18th Amendment, Mr Halepota showed how this piece of legislation was gender blind by not touching anti-women clauses added to the constitution from Ziaul Haq to Nawaz Sharif. “This amendment does not do much for the constitutional issues facing the common citizens of Pakistan,” he concluded

A N G Abbasi, an authority on water issues, asserted that despite the Sindh government’s consent, the water agreements with India and between Pakistani provinces were not fair enough. In addition, he argued that these agreements were not adhered to in distribution of water and that Sindh suffered the most because of a shortage of water. He suggested that future plans should be made on the actual availability of water and not on rosy assumptions. During the question and answer session, he took to task the ruling elite for being totally insensitive to the mammoth problems being faced by the common people. He added that constitutional changes were not going to do anything for the people unless the entire ruling elite is replaced. Representing the abadgars, Mr Aslam Baloch also emphasised the role of water shortage in increasing impoverishment in Sindh.

Contrary to expectations, Dr Qadir Magsi focused on the issue of Sindhi nationalism rather than the water issue. Highlighting the role of language and culture, Dr Magsi claimed that Sindhis were secular humanists and peace loving people. However, Sindhis were not passive and could stand up for their own rights. Shedding light on the evolution of Sindh, Dr Magsi said that if the middle classes of Sindhi Hindus had not left, alien people would not have taken over the industry and trade in the province: Sindh would have survived as an independent nation today.

Dr Jan Mohammad Memon and Mr Adnan Kehar, made presentations on education and technology respectively in the seminar on the economic and social issues of Sindh. Coordinated by Muhammad Ali Mehar, SANA’s ex-president, Mr Aziz Narejo, presided over the seminar on the socio-political issues of Sindh. It was this seminar in which Dr Qadir Magsi, Mr Halepota and the special guest and keynote speaker, Mr Ram Jethmalani shared their ideas with the audience who had travelled from all around the North American continent.

Earlier in the day, a seminar on medical issues was coordinated by Dr Hafeez Abbasi. Dr Aijaz Turk presented research on colon cancer and Dr Sattar A Shaikh spoke on diseases of the heart. In Sindhi Adabi Sangat, Dr Turk, Jamil Daudi, Munawar Leghari, Jami Chandio and Aziz Narejo recited the poetry of famous Sindhi poets. Mr Mumtaz Chang and Mr Muhammad Ali Mehar recited their own poetry. I missed the thunderous performance of Dr Aijaz Turk this year because of arriving one day late to the convention.

SANA was very innovative in creating programmes for children of different age groups. SANA’s website, maintained by Mr Masood Baloch, was inaugurated in the opening ceremonies of the convention. SANA’s successful convention was, of course, the result of the hard work of many individuals like its President Valeed Shaikh, Secretary Shabbir Shaikh, Treasurer Dr Maqbool Halepota and other members of the leadership such as Aijaz Memon, Zafar Agha, Jamil Daudi and Sarfraz Abbasi. To SANA’s credit, its annual conventions are purposeful and carry a serious tone while better-funded organisations of Pakistani expatriates just end up socialising and wasting money.

Saturday, July 17, 2010
An interlude in Thar
Dr. Manzur Ejaz
Thar is a unique place to visit, not least because of its landscape. It has varying shades of greenery, preserved trees and shrubs and delightful peacocks crossing its roads morning and evening. Furthermore, if someone is interested in examining development, Thar is a good laboratory to watch it in

In the deserts of Thar, newly constructed roads have also brought mullahs of all kinds with them. The beautiful desert, where scarcity of water is real and not a political slogan, is speedily adopting a modern way of life. The land where Marvi, the legendary icon of Sindhi patriotism, was born is losing many traditional symbols of its past. Nevertheless, splendid peacocks still enhance the beauty of its rugged natural landscape.

For me the sojourn to Thar and its second largest city, Mithi, meant a reunion with an old friend, Dr Khataumal, and a dream-come-true venture into the desert. Dr Khataumal was the first Pakistani Hindu I ran into in Karachi a decade ago and became friends with. He, and encouragement from Dr Sono Khangarani, the head of Thardeep—an exceptionally credible NGO working for the development of the Thar—made my trip possible and enjoyable.

Thar, though a part of Sindh, has a unique character. The language of the area, Thari, is quite different from Sindhi. The lack of any irrigation system in the entire Thar area also differentiates it from the rest of Sindh. As a matter of fact some Tharis, commenting on the scarcity of water, say that even Sindh has not been kind enough to share irrigation water with them. Therefore, one does not hear many complaints about Punjab usurping water in this area.

To my astonishment most of the men were not wearing traditional dresses. I was told that 20 years back the traditional dhoti was common in this area, but the wave of modernisation has changed it to shalwar-kurta. It was clear that modernisation had already penetrated the area, although the iron roads connecting its different towns are still only a few years old. For example, the road to Khokhrapar is still incomplete while the road to Nagar Parker is only one year old. Despite a visible change in men’s dresses, married Thari women can still be seen in foot-long ‘ghonghats’.

The journey to Nagar Parker, through lush-green desert trees and shrubs, is a unique experience. But at the same time it is like revisiting the landscape of Punjab before mechanised agriculture swallowed everything. The abundance of aak plants and other trees and shrubs reminded me of my village landscape during the 50s. From the Thar landscape it is clear that before the colonisation of Punjab by the British, something like the Thar Desert must have stretched right up to Lahore’s neighbourhoods. I saw many trees and plants and shrubs in Thar that were common in Sahiwal some 40 years back.

Along the road to Nagar Parker from Mithi, one feels overwhelmed at the site of the Bhalwa well, where Marvi was captured by Umar. Visits to old Hindu temples like Gori Mandar make one feel a deep sense of history and appreciate the developed culture of Thar’s past. Most of these temples are almost abandoned, but their grandeur and beauty has persisted.

Besides historical sites, Dr Khataumal showed me many villages where Thardeep has undertaken innovative projects to provide water and grow new crops or produce hybrid berries. Many farmers of the area are keenly embracing the new techniques introduced by Thardeep. Nawaz Ali Khoso, the local historian at Nagar Parker, knows all about how Pakistan lost the Rann of Kutch.

The way we were received everywhere showed the respect Thardeep has in the area. Even at the Rangers’ checkposts, several miles before one gets to Nagar Parker, our driver Bhimpra would just mention Thardeep’s name and the soldiers would grant permission promptly and respectfully.

The journey to Khokhrapar area was a very different experience. In this very dry part of Thar, adjoining Rajasthan, one can see sand dunes and signs of road blockage from past sand storms. A tired bony fox who was trying to escape us by running from one tree to the other made palpable the scarcity of water and lack of resources.

However, amidst the vast desert I was taken to Soomon Samoon, a place where a natural water spring was discovered by Thardeep. Dr Sono Khangarani’s eyes sparkled when he narrated how they made the discovery after digging 12,000 feet into the ground. “The engineers were not willing to go beyond 5,000 feet, but the local inhabitants believed there was water under that spot. I took the chance of my career and decided to go deeper and here was the spring of water oozing out like a big tubewell,” Dr Khangarani explained.

The place is believed to be the bed of the legendary river Saraswati mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures. The Indian government has been trying to locate the bed of this ancient river with limited success. It is always busy with people transporting water on camelback to far-off villages and animals quenching their thirst.

Ironically, Thardeep’s unique gift to the area has not earned it the support of a local young Muslim man I happened to meet. He appreciated specific aspects of the work but expressed crude chauvinism towards people of other religions. He could not appreciate the fact that most activists in Thardeep belong to the Hindu religion and are delivering services to people like him irrespective of their religion.

Thar is a unique place to visit, not least because of its landscape. It has varying shades of greenery, preserved trees and shrubs and delightful peacocks crossing its roads morning and evening. They have been saved because of Thardeep’s publicity, informing people that the peacock, which kills a snake at sight, is their only defence against these extremely poisonous animals.
Besides the landscape, unique historical sites like Umar Kot with its grand castle and the birthplace of Emperor Akbar are also worth visiting. Furthermore, if someone is interested in examining development, Thar is a good laboratory to watch it in. Those who believe that religious fundamentalism is one of the outcomes of economic transformation may benefit from observing such agents of change as the volunteers of Thardeep.

Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and
well-known Pakistani columnist and holds a PhD in economics.
The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com
Website: www.wichaar.com

An interlude in Thar

Dr Manzur Ejaz


Thar is a unique place to visit, not least because of its landscape. It has varying shades of greenery, preserved trees and shrubs and delightful peacocks crossing its roads morning and evening. Furthermore, if someone is interested in examining development, Thar is a good laboratory to watch it in

In the deserts of Thar, newly constructed roads have also brought mullahs of all kinds with them. The beautiful desert, where scarcity of water is real and not a political slogan, is speedily adopting a modern way of life. The land where Marvi, the legendary icon of Sindhi patriotism, was born is losing many traditional symbols of its past. Nevertheless, splendid peacocks still enhance the beauty of its rugged natural landscape.

For me the sojourn to Thar and its second largest city, Mithi, meant a reunion with an old friend, Dr Khataumal, and a dream-come-true venture into the desert. Dr Khataumal was the first Pakistani Hindu I ran into in Karachi a decade ago and became friends with. He, and encouragement from Dr Sono Khangarani, the head of Thardeep—an exceptionally credible NGO working for the development of the Thar—made my trip possible and enjoyable.

Thar, though a part of Sindh, has a unique character. The language of the area, Thari, is quite different from Sindhi. The lack of any irrigation system in the entire Thar area also differentiates it from the rest of Sindh. As a matter of fact some Tharis, commenting on the scarcity of water, say that even Sindh has not been kind enough to share irrigation water with them. Therefore, one does not hear many complaints about Punjab usurping water in this area.

To my astonishment most of the men were not wearing traditional dresses. I was told that 20 years back the traditional dhoti was common in this area, but the wave of modernisation has changed it to shalwar-kurta. It was clear that modernisation had already penetrated the area, although the iron roads connecting its different towns are still only a few years old. For example, the road to Khokhrapar is still incomplete while the road to Nagar Parker is only one year old. Despite a visible change in men’s dresses, married Thari women can still be seen in foot-long ‘ghonghats’.

The journey to Nagar Parker, through lush-green desert trees and shrubs, is a unique experience. But at the same time it is like revisiting the landscape of Punjab before mechanised agriculture swallowed everything. The abundance of aak plants and other trees and shrubs reminded me of my village landscape during the 50s. From the Thar landscape it is clear that before the colonisation of Punjab by the British, something like the Thar Desert must have stretched right up to Lahore’s neighbourhoods. I saw many trees and plants and shrubs in Thar that were common in Sahiwal some 40 years back.

Along the road to Nagar Parker from Mithi, one feels overwhelmed at the site of the Bhalwa well, where Marvi was captured by Umar. Visits to old Hindu temples like Gori Mandar make one feel a deep sense of history and appreciate the developed culture of Thar’s past. Most of these temples are almost abandoned, but their grandeur and beauty has persisted.

Besides historical sites, Dr Khataumal showed me many villages where Thardeep has undertaken innovative projects to provide water and grow new crops or produce hybrid berries. Many farmers of the area are keenly embracing the new techniques introduced by Thardeep. Nawaz Ali Khoso, the local historian at Nagar Parker, knows all about how Pakistan lost the Rann of Kutch.

The way we were received everywhere showed the respect Thardeep has in the area. Even at the Rangers’ checkposts, several miles before one gets to Nagar Parker, our driver Bhimpra would just mention Thardeep’s name and the soldiers would grant permission promptly and respectfully.

The journey to Khokhrapar area was a very different experience. In this very dry part of Thar, adjoining Rajasthan, one can see sand dunes and signs of road blockage from past sand storms. A tired bony fox who was trying to escape us by running from one tree to the other made palpable the scarcity of water and lack of resources.

However, amidst the vast desert I was taken to Soomon Samoon, a place where a natural water spring was discovered by Thardeep. Dr Sono Khangarani’s eyes sparkled when he narrated how they made the discovery after digging 12,000 feet into the ground. “The engineers were not willing to go beyond 5,000 feet, but the local inhabitants believed there was water under that spot. I took the chance of my career and decided to go deeper and here was the spring of water oozing out like a big tubewell,” Dr Khangarani explained.

The place is believed to be the bed of the legendary river Saraswati mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures. The Indian government has been trying to locate the bed of this ancient river with limited success. It is always busy with people transporting water on camelback to far-off villages and animals quenching their thirst.

Ironically, Thardeep’s unique gift to the area has not earned it the support of a local young Muslim man I happened to meet. He appreciated specific aspects of the work but expressed crude chauvinism towards people of other religions. He could not appreciate the fact that most activists in Thardeep belong to the Hindu religion and are delivering services to people like him irrespective of their religion.

Thar is a unique place to visit, not least because of its landscape. It has varying shades of greenery, preserved trees and shrubs and delightful peacocks crossing its roads morning and evening. They have been saved because of Thardeep’s publicity, informing people that the peacock, which kills a snake at sight, is their only defence against these extremely poisonous animals.

Besides the landscape, unique historical sites like Umar Kot with its grand castle and the birthplace of Emperor Akbar are also worth visiting. Furthermore, if someone is interested in examining development, Thar is a good laboratory to watch it in. Those who believe that religious fundamentalism is one of the outcomes of economic transformation may benefit from observing such agents of change as the volunteers of Thardeep.


Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and
well-known Pakistani columnist and holds a PhD in economics.
The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com
Website: www.wichaar.com



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